“Mona Lisa Smile” tries to shine an empowering light
on how far women have come in the past 50 years, especially within
the realm of education, but is done with a lack of creativity. As
compared to the classic “Dead Poets Society,”
“Mona Lisa Smile” truly does not deserve such a grand
comparison with the trite fable.
Weighed down with stereotypical characters and predictability,
this heart-warming tale of a liberal teacher’s (Julia
Roberts) journey to Wellesley, a top-notch women’s college,
in order to inspire and change the lives of others fails to
deliver. Of course, conflict is met as Katherine (Roberts)
discovers these women are simply getting ready for their futures as
housewives, with no desire to learn beyond the constraints of their
Katherine’s students fulfill the clichéd group of
young teens shown in most films; there is the slut, (Maggie
Gyllenhaal, “Secretary”), the stuck-up bitch (Kirsten
Dunst), the sophisticated brain (Julia Stiles), and the
less-attractive nerd (Ginnifer Goodwin, “Ed”).
Gyllenhaal shines and is able to make the 1950 promiscuous college
student lovable by using her innocent sexy charm to stand out
against the other girls. Dunst and Stiles give flat performances,
with little dramatic edge except for sporting upper-crust New
England accents. Newcomer Goodwin makes us truly care for her role
as Connie, by being the only real character that isn’t
over-contrived, producing the heart this film claims to have.
Roberts is obviously cast in this role in an attempt to add star
power to the film. She fits perfectly as the caring teacher, but
lacks the qualities of being the liberal California woman who is
the complete opposite of her students. This bad judgment in casting
ruins the energy the film could’ve had.
“Mona Lisa Smile” is a well-made film and
entertaining, encasing heartache, inspiration and friendship in a
neat little package that doesn’t take any risks. In this film
about the tribulations of the woman’s movement and the bitter
realities of woman who were blind to the movement, a more
innovative approach is needed than putting Julia Roberts in the
unthinkable role of a single woman who astonishingly overcomes her
Rating: 2 1/2 stars.